Friday, September 26, 2014

Loss of a Buddy, Brazilian Patient, Corporal Punishment, Empathy, Scotland, Israeli Human Rights Group, Cuban Doctors in Africa, Castro’s Secrets, Computer Meltdown

The photo is of my biologist daughter Stephanie, checking out herbicide effects in a forest, in  Oahu in Hawaii.
A semi-homeless dark-skinned man named Buddy, with a gap-toothed smile, who used to greet me daily on a local street corner, suddenly disappeared. A guy approximately in his 60s, he used to search daily for small change ejected from parking meters and hung out with sidewalk T-shirt vendors, often sitting out on a fire hydrant smoking a cigarette or chewing on a toothpick, always wearing the same grimy jumpsuit and cap, rain or shine, heat or cold. When I didn’t see him for several days running, I asked the vendors where he was. They told me that he had suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. That was sad news, but seemed not such a terrible way to go. He’d appeared hearty and engaged up to the very end and never suffered the indignity and discomfort of being hooked up to hospital machines day after day, as happens to so many now at life’s end.  The day I learned about Buddy’s death, a friend told me how her brother had died after 3 unhappy months of decline in hospital intensive care where every kind of intervention was made. Of course, we don’t always get to choose the time and manner of our death.
I have to recount a recurrent annoyance. Yesterday, my hospital interpretation patient was Brazilian, from Sao Paolo, actually—things like that happen now and again and no longer surprise me. A Brazilian patient, who usually has been exposed to Spanish, and I do the best we can under the circumstances. Hospital staff who request an interpreter should realize that just because someone is from South America and has a Hispanic-sounding name doesn't mean they necessarily speak Spanish! Our agency has Portuguese-speaking interpreters who would be glad to have an assignment. The man I was with yesterday indicated that his Spanish-speaking friends have tried to teach him Spanish, but when he tries to teach them Portuguese, they don't seem interested. Anyway, we got through a complicated medical procedure with him, consents and all, but it would have been much easier and more proper to have a Portuguese-speaking interpreter. His appointment started at 7 am, so, obviously, at that point, we had to make do.
A sports’ star’s beating of his 4-year-old son, to the point that he was hospitalized, has sparked a national debate in cyberspace and on radio shows about the use and propriety of corporal punishment with kids, also on whether hitting children is a normal part of “black culture” and whether a man’s home is his castle, where outside meddlers should not intrude. (Those same arguments are often made regarding spousal abuse.) The very existence of this debate indicates a difference of opinion. Many defenders of spanking and hitting children say that’s how they themselves were raised and are none the worse for it. Others see the practice, especially among African Americans, as a holdover from the beating culture of slavery.
As a single mother of four, struggling to work and put food on the table, I was often stressed and frustrated, but don’t recall (selective memory?) ever hitting my kids, except my youngest, once in moment of frustration and much to my regret. Earlier, as a social worker, I saw excessive physical punishment and outright abuse of children among black and low-income parents of all races, including among military wives whose husbands were deployed overseas. Sometimes, we had to remove children into foster care. Later, in Honduras in the Peace Corps, I saw mothers using sticks against their kids, sometimes just picking up the stick as a threat. Those mothers were also being beaten by their husbands, who often drank heavily and openly consorted with other women. Perhaps the mothers’ aggression against their offspring was displaced anger against their husbands. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was in a delicate position trying to advise the women to tone down their actions in disciplining their children without putting them on the defensive. Sometimes, I would take an erring youngster out for a walk alone to give the mother time to cool down. I have no problem with a parent snatching a small child running out into a busy street or, very rarely, giving a slap on the behind. But to physically hurt a kid, just to show them who’s boss and that might makes right, goes against my grain, is unnecessary, and ultimately breeds resentment in the child. I myself was hit with a hairbrush by my mother and learned to immediately cry out to make her stop. I don’t remember my infractions nor did I feel I deserved the hairbrush; I think Mother, in retrospect, was mostly frazzled because she was caring for 3 small children alone and our dad was away in Europe during World War II. In any case, I believe that for most kids and parents, corporal punishment should be used never, or only as a last resort. Apparently a shrinking majority of American parents still use corporal punishment, at least sometimes. Only the US and Somalia have failed to sign the convention on the rights of the child that prohibits it. However, from my experiences abroad, if all other countries have actually signed, then protection of children from physical punishment is being honored in the breech in most countries.
Apparently the size of the amygdala helps determine altruism and empathy toward others, including spouses and children. Bigger means more altruistic, while psychopaths have very small ones. Maybe that's why my "nunny bunny" critic in my Cuba book became so infuriated at me--his amygdala is too small.
I’m relieved that Scotland decided to stay in the UK, not only because of my Scottish heritage and what it means for that country, but because of the example set for other independence movements, most, in my opinion, ill-advised. However, maybe those in Texas who wanted to secede from the union should be allowed to do so—let them keep GWBush and Rick Perry!
I was recently among a group of 25 people meeting at the local office of Amnesty International USA to talk with 3 members of an Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem , located in Jerusalem, sending Palestinian-affiliated investigators into Gaza to gather information on the individual human impact of the bombing campaign. They urged the human rights community worldwide to react more forcefully than during the conflict of 5 years ago, when everything reverted to status quo ante. They reported that bombed homes were not always of those of combatants nor were warnings always given. Liberal and rights-oriented voices in Israel are very marginalized, though social media helps overcome this problem and US support and leverage are crucial. The group’s message is that human rights are universal, something that everyone can address. Counter-arguments that the problem is “too complex” or “you are not there on the ground” must be dismissed. They will be glad to work with us at Amnesty. Someone at the gathering startled some attendees by identifying himself as the son of Holocaust survivors and a signatory of a letter published recently in the NY Times advocating a “one-state solution,” not a single, expanded Jewish state, but, rather, one where Palestinians and Jews would live together in apparent harmony. If a “two-state solution” is controversial, “one-state” along such lines seems almost utopian and completely unfeasible under present circumstances—maybe under any circumstances. However, times and circumstances do change and attitudes evolve. One hundred years ago, who could have imagined the very existence of Israel?
Kudos to Cuban medical personnel for going to Africa to help with the Ebola epidemic. “Boots on the ground” are needed in that humanitarian health fight and, in my experience, Cuban medical staff are well trained and competent. Of course, the Cuban government also benefits, not only in terms of its international image, but also financially from such “medical diplomacy” by keeping most of the money its medical personnel earn. It also regularly confiscates the passports of medical missionaries just in case they decide to jump ship.
I’ve just read a provocative book, Castro’s Secrets, by Brian Latell, who once worked for the CIA, taught at Georgetown, and is now with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Probably the most incendiary allegation he makes is that Fidel Castro knew when and where President Kennedy would be assassinated. Castro had put island forces on high alert beforehand in case of an American invasion after the Kennedy murder.  Author Latell falls short of saying there’s definitive proof that Castro himself was directly behind the murder, instead waiting for the pertinent Cuban secret service archives to be opened in the future—assuming they will not have been destroyed. At the very least, Latell makes a convincing case that Castro lied when he said he and his government had never heard of Lee Harvey Oswald. Shortly beforehand, Oswald had approached the Cuban consulate in Mexico City and declared his intention to kill Kennedy, something about which micro-manager Fidel could not have been unaware. A number of Cuban and American officials alleged that Castro believed Kennedy wanted to kill him, so he acted first. According to author Latell, those believing that Castro himself had had Kennedy killed included former North Carolina Senator Robert Morgan and President Lyndon Johnson.
Lying about his foreknowledge of the Kennedy assassination was not the only significant lie that Fidel Castro has told, according to Latell. During the Cuban Missile crisis, he sent a note to Khrushchev asking him to make a preemptive nuclear strike on the US, advice the Soviet leader fortunately ignored, later in his memoirs, chiding Castro for wanting to start a worldwide nuclear war wherein Cuba “would have been crushed to powder.” Later, Castro denied ever advocating nuclear war, saying he abhorred the very idea of attacking innocent civilians, including women and children. Likewise, as mentioned in my recent book, Castro denied ever knowing that his government had persecuted gays. Even Cuban school kids at the time were well aware that homosexuality was forbidden. Raul’s daughter Mariela has been able to reverse that policy, but only for gays who are loyal communists.
Castro was a leader for whom no detail was too tiny to escape his notice and who tracked down and sometimes managed to assassinate members of his intelligence service who’d defected to the West. He also ordered assassinations of foreign leaders, including Somoza, often using ideologically disposed nationals of other countries to carry out the deed, but failed with Pinochet, while Batista, exiled in Spain, died of a heart attack two days before an alleged Castro assassination attempt. Defectors have reported having come to a point when, suddenly, they couldn’t take the system any more. Most of them still living in the US have assumed new identities. A few became double agents, which protected them from assassination. Cuba’s spy system, according to author Latell, is one of the most sophisticated in the world, despite Cuba’s small size, and is aimed mostly at Fidel Castro’s lifelong target of hatred, the US. I would add that the internal spy system against Cuban citizens is equally pervasive and sophisticated.
Latell describes labyrinthian schemes with trickery on both sides, such as with Ana Montes, a Cuban spy who worked for the CIA for 16 years and is now in prison. He estimates that there are about 300 Cuban agents currently in the US.  It’s fairly easy to infiltrate them in via the 30,000 Cubans who enter the US annually, 20,000 from the visa lottery, 10,000 by sea or through Mexico. The former are checked out beforehand, but not the latter. The “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy of admitting Cuban refugees without screening as long as they touch American soil makes infiltration relatively easy.  
As for the Cuban Five, of whom three still remain in US prisons and on whose behalf American Alan Gross has been held hostage as a prisoner in Cuba for the past 5 years, the evidence presented by Latell indicates that they were a definite part of the Cuban spy network responsible for some US citizen deaths, but that the Cuban regime always advocates for its spies to keep up the morale of those who remain in service. The strong evidence of their crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that after the November elections, the Three won’t be exchanged for Gross. Remember, you heard it here first. Also, the Cuban government, in addition to planting bugs in the US Interests Section building in Havana, also chooses the Cuban staff for that mission, planting its own operatives inside. In my book, I mention, after getting a constant busy signal by phone, having sent a FAX to the Interests Section advising them not to grant a visa to Dr. Angel. But now I’m wondering whether a Cuban operative at the section might have seen that FAX first and simply trashed it?
Latell believes it unlikely that another Gorbachev would emerge from the current Cuban leadership. Rather, a hardline authoritarian is more likely in his opinion.
While I found Latell’s book enlightening, as a fellow author and a Spanish translator, I must take issue with his carelessness about Spanish spelling, especially in the use of accent marks. His is a book by a mainstream publisher, found in many public libraries, including my own, and yet, accent and other Spanish spelling inconsistencies occur throughout, such as misplaced accents and an accent appearing on a name in one place, then omitted on the same name 2 sentences later. Most readers might not notice, but I do, and feel that if I, as an unknown and self-published writer, can provide correct Spanish proofreading, then a prominent author like Latell can do so too. My other quibble is with his statement (p. 36) that a peasant named Eutimio Guerra was executed by Raul on orders from Fidel (p. 154). In fact, as I said in my own book, Guerra was executed by Che, who boasted about putting a bullet in his brain.   
This posting might have been made earlier except for a complete computer meltdown. I’m not talking here just about jumbled or lost files. My modem/router got so hot and the cord reached such a high temperature that it actually burned my fingers, melting into the router itself. Could a virus have caused such an event or was it more likely a mechanical failure? In any case, computers, like everything else in life, are subject to unanticipated events.

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